Scotland’s college staff morale at ‘rock bottom’

More than six in ten staff think college services have declined, according to a report. Picture: Robert Kneschke
More than six in ten staff think college services have declined, according to a report. Picture: Robert Kneschke
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STAFF morale is at rock bottom in Scotland’s colleges with real concern that education services for students are declining say union leaders.

A Unison report entitled Learning the Hard Way compiled from a survey of staff in Scottish colleges, shows real problems caused by funding cuts, the college mergers programme and unaccountable college senior managers.

In the wake of the report union leaders have warned of possible future industrial action unless pay and conditions terms are met.

The report’s findings include: more than six in ten staff (64 per cent) think college services have declined; seven in ten (69 per cent) blame the Scottish Government’s merger policy; the vast majority of staff (77 per cent) are extremely doubtful that services will improve within the next year; most staff (72 per cent) are dissatisfied with opportunities for their own advancement; while nine in ten (90 per cent) staff believe Scottish colleges are underfunded.

Union leaders are warning that the sector is in “real trouble” highlighting the key role it plays in the Scottish economy and social justice – providing skills development, wider access to education and improved opportunities for students from lower income backgrounds.

Chris Greenshields, chair of the Unison further education committee said: “This survey is damning. It’s no surprise that its one bad story after another in Further Education and our sector urgently needs a shot in the arm with additional ring-fenced funding for staff to reverse the decline.

“Trust in management is at an all-time low. Ordinary staff are appalled at the large pay-offs that unaccountable senior managers have been paying themselves while Unison members are working harder and longer hours to try to maintain the quality of services they offered before the mergers and redundancies across the whole 
sector.”

He added: “College management and the Scottish Government need to listen to the staff. We are here to work with the Scottish Government to make that vital difference.

“But it is getting increasingly difficult. It’s time warm words are translated into better pay and conditions for staff who are delivering despite real problems. If we don’t do something soon we can expect real industrial relation problems in the sector.”

In response to the report, representative body Colleges Scotland has pointed to the 
£14.9 billion the sector contributes to the Scottish economy each year - highlighting that for every £1 spent on college education, £6.30 is returned to the economy.

Colleges Scotland chief executive Shona Struthers, said: “It is vital that colleges receive adequate revenue and capital investment so that we can continue to deliver. As a sector we are working to protect existing funding streams and seek further investment where possible.”

Scotland’s college system has undergone widespread reform in recent years which has seen the number of institutions fall from 37 to 20 in order to save £50 million a year. The number of students has also fallen by 130,000 in recent years after a drive to slash part-time courses. More than 600 teaching staff have also been axed. Student numbers now stand at 238,000 down from 371,000 six years ago.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “The progress we’ve made through reform is largely due to the commitment and professionalism of staff across Scotland. We have seen huge progress on college reform and this government has pushed for national pay bargaining, to which most colleges are now signed up.”